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Alpha Flight #55 (1988, February)

May 2, 2016

Follow me on Twitter (@XMenXPert). Last night, the amazing artist Sophie Campbell did a live-tweet of The Force Awakens. So, naturally, I had to watch it again, too. Still an amazing movie. And by the way, you should totally check out Campbell’s work. She’s immensely talented. But now for today! By Mantlo, Lee, DeZuniga, Sharen and Chiang, “Identity Crisis!”

Identity Crisis!

Aw, no, the Great Beasts again?

It opens with Walter (“Wanda”) feeling down about the whole “turned-into-a-woman” thing. As usual, a disclaimer: While the comic uses “Wanda,” and female pronouns, I continue to use “Walter” and male pronouns when talking about Sasquatch. While he’s in a female body, there’s no real indication that he likes being a woman. He somewhat accepts it, but it’s clear that it’s not what he’d prefer. And when he eventually does become male again, he’s deeply relieved about it. So this isn’t me doing the whole “he was born a guy so he’s a guy” nonsense. If the story had him come to realize he preferred being female, then I would use female pronouns. But he never seemed comfortable as a woman, which I interpret as him still identifying as male, on a mental and emotional level, so I use male pronouns. I’m explaining this all right here because this issue does get into his situation a bit more than usual.

Anyway, Heather gives a recap of the last few issues, because we were still a few years away from someone coming up with the idea of actual recap pages. One of those brilliantly simple ideas that really did improve things by removing these sort of awkward expository “As you know” recaps. Walter starts talking about the changes he’s been through, and expresses bitterness. He mentions that there was a time he’d have hoped for more from a woman than sisterly comfort. And once again, I really wish Marvel hadn’t had their ban on homosexuality at that point. Because I’m genuinely curious where Mantlo would’ve taken Walter in terms of romance, if anywhere. As it is, I don’t know that Mantlo could’ve done anything. Walter was originally male, so “Wanda” dating a man might have been say as gay. But being in a female body, dating a woman would definitely have been seen as gay. It’s possible that, even if he’d had more freedom, Mantlo still wouldn’t have addressed the question of romance. (And, actually, Tom DeFalco was EiC at this point, so I don’t know if he even kept in place Shooter’s rule against gay characters. So it’s possible Mantlo did have the freedom.)

Anyway! Heather goes to tell the rest of the team they’re not staying in Bedlam the Brain-Blast’s base. (The name is so stupid I have to use the full thing each time. Bedlam the Brain-Blast!) Jeffries mentions the base extends down beneath the ice cap. They even have the food situation taken care of: A vacuum sucks up fish, that a device designed by Sasquatch, a biophysicist, turns into dinner.

Kara is with Laura, trying to learn more about her and Goblyn. They join minds again so Laura can show her Liveworld. It’s pretty trippy, though Goblyn keeps Kara from actually seeing Liveworld.

Sasquatch is out in the snow, where the Great Beasts show up, calling him “Sister” and telling him to join them. He politely declines, and they accept the rejection with humility and grace. So, yeah, it’s fight time. Heather very quickly takes out both Tolomaq the Fire Beast, and Kariooq the Corrupter. Because Mantlo shills Heather ridiculously hard during his run. It’s honestly too much. But Solomon the Artificer kills Manikin, so that’s cool. And then Sasquatch snaps Solomon’s neck.

That just leaves Tundra, who’s giant and can replenish himself from the earth. So Box absorbs the mass of Bedlam the Brain-Blast’s base and dukes it out with him. The others run inside the giant Box armour (with Goblyn having replaced Laura and Kara). Tundra keeps getting bigger, but most of his mass is ice, so Sasquatch suggests that if Box destroys some of his own mass, the resultant energy release would melt Tundra. It sure does create a big boom.

This issue’s not great. It needed to spend more time on Walter’s doubts about who he is, and more important, whether he’s even still a he. We get a few panels of that, and that’s it. One panel of recapping his various bodies, one panel of him wondering who he is, and one panel of him being bitter. There’s almost nothing there. We get a lot more time spent on whether he’s a Great Beast. It ends up feeling like Mantlo just skipped over the most interesting part of the issue, and we never really get back to it in a big way. We never get a truly in-depth exploration of how Sasquatch feels about having a female body. There’s a lot of room for pathos there, and for exploring the complexities of gender identity. Actually, it makes me wish that the book had gotten Ann Nocenti or Louise Simonson as co-writers, just to explore that stuff. Because gender identity and gender politics were issues that both writers explored in some of their work. They could’ve brought a lot of insight for Mantlo to springboard off of. But even without them, Mantlo should’ve made more of an effort to delve into it. To do a deep dive, rather than just kinda skimming the surface.

I will say this issue is refreshingly light on angst and melodrama. It’s more subdued than usual, which is nice. But there’s also a fair bit of extraneous stuff. The whole scene with the discussion of making Bedlam the Brain-Blast’s complex habitable didn’t add much. It could’ve been cut easily. The Kara/Laura scene was nice. You know, this is a small thing, but I do appreciate that Laura was never depicted as any sort of savant. She wasn’t stupid, certainly. But Mantlo didn’t have her doing complex mathematics or something. It’s pretty rare to see an autistic character in fiction who isn’t a savant. Who’s just, you know, a person who has problems with socializing. Though she is still a fairly lazy depiction of an autistic person. She’s withdrawn, and that’s pretty much it. We don’t see her engaging in behaviours associated with autism. I still want an autistic superhero. Or at least some autistic supporting characters.

Once the Great Beasts show up, the issue gets less interesting. Their attempts to sway Sasquatch to their side aren’t particularly compelling. And the issue continues their descent into non-threats. As introduced, the Great Beasts were threats. They were dangerous. Defeating a single Great Beast was an accomplishment. Now, they’re pretty much nothing. Heather takes down two of them at once with ease. The only one who actually poses a threat is Tundra.

The art is great. It’s not Lee’s most dynamic work, even then, but it’s excellent work. And it shows immense potential. Because Lee was just starting out his career, and already, he was a top-notch artist. His work did develop down some unfortunate paths in the ’90s, which is a shame. But here, he does great work.

Just the same, Mantlo’s Alpha Flight reminds worth skipping.

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